Summer Grilling Tips

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Grilling For a Large Group

Having a group of friends over for a backyard barbecue is one of the great traditions of summer in America. Sometimes there is a special occasion—graduation, a birthday, an anniversary—that gives you an opportunity to entertain a large group of guests. Grilling for a large group poses additional challenges versus just having two or three friends over.  You want to make sure everyone is well-fed and has a good time but you, the host, want to enjoy the party as well, and not feel like you’re a short-order cook in a crowded restaurant rushing around trying to fill orders.

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Menu planning and task planning (sharing responsibility with the other guests) are two ways you can cope with the stress of entertaining a large group.  Creative menu planning includes selecting the foods you will serve and the schedule for preparing them. Think outside the ‘hamburgers and hot dogs’ box and include a variety of salads and side dishes. These can be prepared in advance, saving you time and stress the afternoon of the party. And salads can be made with a wide variety of flavorful and colorful ingredients—almost like meals in themselves. Many side dishes can be made the day before, too, and then you simply have to warm them up before serving.  With some dishes, the flavors meld and they taste better the second day.

If you have a small outdoor grill and lots of people to serve, you run the risk of not having the meat grilled in time to serve everyone. Or you may rush through the grilling and serve your guests underdone meat. Plan ahead and ask one of the guests to bring over their grill, or borrow one from a neighbor. You could also serve smaller portions of the meat dish, allowing you to cook more units at once, so everyone gets to eat, and then can come back for more when you have cooked the second batch. You could also start out by serving hors d’oeuvres that have been prepared inside, giving the guests something to satisfy their hunger while you finish the main course meat.

Make the cooking easier on yourself by choosing meat or fish items that you have grilled many times before; we all have certain foods we know we can grill to perfection. Your party might not be the time to try out a new grilled oysters recipe, even if it might impress your guests.

You could also start certain dishes inside on the stove or in the oven, and then finish them on the grill to add that special smoky barbecue flavor. If you do that, you will need to have an assistant chef helping you, which brings up the next consideration when planning a successful outdoor party for a large group: task planning.

Imagine the chaotic situation of you and your spouse trying to cook and serve food for 40 people all at once, and serve them drinks, all the while trying to socialize and making them feel welcome.  In advance of the party, call up a few of the invited guests and ask them if they are willing to pitch in with some of the serving chores. You might even have a buddy who is an expert griller and would love to help you cook.  Some people prefer to be involved with a party rather than standing by trying to make conversation with people. Helping serve food and drinks is a great ice breaker to allow guests who many not know each other get acquainted.

Add Creativity and Zest to Your Barbecue Sauces and Marinades

Many barbecue enthusiasts have a store bought barbecue sauce they swear by, while others prefer to make their own. Coming up with your own blend of ingredients can be fun, and it’s amazing how many different flavors can be incorporated into a sauce for ribs, chicken, steaks, fish or whatever you might be grilling. You can even take a store bought sauce and enhance its flavor by adding your own ingredients.

If you’ve never made a sauce from scratch before, you’ll be surprised how easy it is. Most sauces have a base of ketchup or tomato sauce. Many have onion and garlic.  Vinegar is a key ingredient in many sauces; cider vinegar is particularly good. A sweet ingredient is incorporated into many sauces, such as brown sugar or honey. Citrus juice is often added; orange, lemon and lime are all popular.  Then of course you have spice. Chili powder, or diced fresh chiles, are a staple of southwestern style sauces. Pepper is almost always an ingredient of a barbecue sauce or marinade as well. Worcestershire and/or soy sauce can give your homemade sauce an extra kick.  Dried or fresh herbs are also frequently used in sauces: Oregano, rosemary, thyme and cilantro each work well.

With these basics of barbecue sauces and marinades you can create a variety of flavorful sauces. But the great thing about making your own sauces is that with a little imagination you can employ dozens of other ingredients to create your own unique sauce. Take vinegar for instance. Try the more intensely flavored balsamic vinegar and see how that enhances the taste of your sauce.  For a different kind of sweet ingredient, substitute maple syrup for the honey or brown sugar you might normally use. The maple flavor is particularly good grilled salmon.  There is a longtime favorite dish in the western U.S. called a “cowboy steak”. This steak has a secret ingredient in the spice blend used to create that wonderful crust when it is grilled: coffee. But strong coffee or espresso can be used in many different sauces, marinades and dry rubs.

Alcoholic beverages such as rum, bourbon and tequila add a unique zest to sauces as well. If you don’t want to cook with alcohol, try your favorite cola beverage instead.  And don’t overlook fruits such as cherries, grapefruit, pineapple, or mango, peaches. Processed fruits, such as orange marmalade are great, too. Each one adds a distinctive flavor. And here’s one last ingredient to try: peanut butter.

As you experiment with new flavors, you will discover that many of them work better with certain kinds of meat, fish or poultry than others. You also have to take into account how much spice your family prefers in their food. That’s part of the fun, building that perfect sauce that you have put your own individual stamp on.  It’s also fun to plan a menu where you use try two of your sauce creations, and see which one your family likes best. Be sure to write down the ingredients you use each time, so you can replicate the sauce when you have perfected it.

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